How to keep your soul warm this winter

It happens every year.

We turn back our clocks, looking forward to that extra hour of sleep.

But as it turns out, this time change signals the beginning of a tough season for many people. Seasonal affective disorder is more prevalent in locations with higher latitudes, so it's especially important for us in the Midwest to prepare for the winter.

The days are getting shorter, darker. It's tempting to stay inside, eat comfort food, and post up on the couch all night. And of course, this seems natural. It makes sense to conserve energy in preparation for the cold, dark winter.

But are these things helpful when you consider your mental health? All things in moderation, I say. But when hibernating becomes a habit, it's easy for seasonal anxiety and depression to grow stronger. Here are some ideas on managing your mental health this winter:

Set goals for nutrition and exercise

For most of us, healthy eating and regular exercise don't just happen. Their benefits are certainly more than physical. Certain foods can help manage your anxiety. A 2011 study in Norway showed that people who regularly ate meat and vegetables (versus a diet with more processed foods) had lower rates of depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. The effects of exercising on anxiety and depression include improved sleep, decreased stress and improved mood. It's worth mentioning that working out looks different for everyone- to you, it might mean practicing yoga at home (here's a great sequence for managing seasonal depression), taking your dog for a daily walk, or going to a gym.

Schedule social activities in the evening

Once each week, set aside some time in the evening to go out with friends. It doesn't have to be a huge time commitment- even a 30-minute coffee date with a friend can do wonders for your mood. Disclaimer: be mindful of consuming caffeine in the evening- it can mess with your sleep cycle, not to mention it exacerbates anxiety

Reconsider your self-care plan

Get out a notebook and pen, and write down your self-care plan. Counseling for anxiety and depression is a great thing to include. What else are you doing to care for yourself? Yes, it can be hard and yes, it takes time. And yes, you are worth it. 

In the winter she curls up around a good book and dreams away the cold.
— Ben Aaronovitch

Plan something exciting

They say the process of planning a vacation can be more pleasurable than actually going on a trip! Ironic, isn't it? No matter your budget, plan something you can look forward to this winter. It could be a weekend at a cozy cabin with your girlfriends, or a week-long family vacation in the sun. Breaking up the monotony of a Midwest winter can be a game-changer.

Participate in a winter activity

If you're into winter sports, you're probably looking forward to the season! But if winter is synonymous with depression, icy roads, and shoveling snow, it's no wonder you're not excited about it. Try to find just one special thing to do this winter. Maybe you could try snowshoeing, orr knitting by the fireplace. Or you could find a local winter festival! Here in the Twin Cities, we look forward to the Saint Paul Winter Carnival every year.

Winter can be a tough time for many of us in Minnesota. Counseling can be the extra support you're looking for- together we can find ways to alleviate anxiety and boost your mood. Schedule an appointment to get started today.


Self-care for people who don't have time for self-care

Raise your hand if you're feeling stressed out, tired, or overwhelmed. Everyone? Okay.

If you're in counseling already, or you're thinking about making an appointment, you've probably heard how important self-care is to your mental health. One thing I hear often in my work as a counselor is that people don't have time for things like restorative yoga practices, reading for pleasure, and going for walks in the woods. 

I get it. I know how hard it can be to intentionally practice self-care, when you'd just rather zone out in front of the TV at night- especially with the days getting shorter this time of year! But what if it didn't need to be so hard? What if you could just do one small thing to make more time for yourself? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Use your calendar. Whether it's on your phone or in a planner, prioritize your well-being by scheduling time for yourself. Maybe you've been wanting to start your day with prayer or meditation. Set your alarm for a few minutes earlier than you normally would, program your coffee machine to start brewing automatically, and savor a few moments of peace before the day starts.
  2. Make the mundane meaningful. If you drive to work or school, try using that time to listen to uplifting music or a fun podcast. Use public transportation? This is a great opportunity to read that book that's been sitting on your nightstand. If you've wanting to exercise more but feel like you have neither the time nor the energy to start a routine, try squeezing it in while you're doing other things. For example, do calf raises or squats while washing dishes or folding laundry. A little goes a long way, as they say.

  3. Notice where your time goes. For one day, keep a log of everything you're doing- don't do anything different from your normal routine. Maybe you'll notice that your 30-minute Instagram scroll was leaving you feeling unsatisfied. Or that emailing your boss while watching Netflix, cooking dinner, and playing fetch with your dog wasn't as effective as you'd hoped. 

Start out by trying just one of these ways to make more time for yourself. Chances are, you'll feel less anxious and more in control of your time- and life. 

Counseling is an investment of your time and finances, that's for sure. If you're ready to make therapy a part of your self-care plan, you can get started today. Schedule an appointment to take the first step.


Why having it all together isn't actually a thing

I haven't analyzed any actual data on this, but it seems like perfectionism has become more prevalent lately- especially in young women.

There's this intense pressure to look perfect every day- great hair, great makeup, great shoes, great outfit. Beyond your everyday appearance, there's also this pressure (looking at you, Pinterest) to plan a stunning wedding, have a beautiful apartment, and yes... take the perfect picture of your latté art. 

There's nothing wrong with looking nice or having nice things- the problem comes in when you start chasing after perfection.

It's a problem because what you're chasing after doesn't exist. Simply being a human makes you imperfect. And so, chasing after perfection ultimately ends in disappointment. And most of the time, it's disappointment in yourself... which can be a recipe for shame/anxiety/depression/self-loathing.

The perfect girlfriend/wife? She doesn't exist.

The perfect body? Doesn't exist either.

The perfect job? You won't find one.

Having it all together? Not actually a thing.

Here's what Brené Brown had to say about perfectionism on her blog

Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: “If I look perfect, live perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.
— Brené Brown

Nobody has it all together. And when we put up a façade of perfection to the outside world, what we're really doing is trying to protect ourselves. We don't want to feel shame, so we try to mask it with perfectionism. But here's the problem:

We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.
— Brené Brown

In order to feel positive emotions, we must feel the not-so-positive emotions. This is a process, one that is incredibly important, even essential, to living your most authentic life.

Are you struggling with perfectionism? Wondering if seeing a counselor could help? Good news- counseling can help you work through your perfectionism (and perfectionism's close personal friends, anxiety, shame, and depression). Click on the button below to contact me for more information on Minneapolis counseling for anxiety, perfectionism, and depression.


What to do Between Counseling Sessions

Counseling sessions are generally about an hour per week. 

A lot happens during that hour- sometimes a huge range of emotion is expressed- joy, disappointment, hope, fear. 

It can be a lot to process.

I'm a big believer that the most significant change happens between counseling sessions. In the other 167 hours of the week.

In light of that, I've come up with a few standard recommendations for how to supplement counseling. Everyone has different needs, of course, but here's a good starting point:

Get Sleep

Anxiety and depression often impact your sleep. It might be useful to track your sleep using something like a Fitbit, or an app on your phone. My favorite, Sleep Cycle, also serves as an alarm clock to wake you up during your lightest sleep stage- helping you to feel more rested when you wake up. 

Get Sweaty

I'm using sweaty in a generous way here- exercise doesn't need to be super strenuous. Start with something gentle like a walk around your neighborhood, or yoga. Even just doing a few stretches every day can work wonders for mental clarity and mood. 

Get Spiritual

Connect to something bigger than yourself- whether that's through prayer, spending time in nature, writing in a gratitude journal, or getting involved in your local church. Organized or solo, spirituality can help ease the feelings of hopelessness and isolation. 

Get Social

We aren't designed to be alone- we are social beings! Being social looks different to everyone, based on your personality and temperament. When life feels overwhelming and anxiety is telling you you don't have time to get coffee with your friend- go have coffee with your friend. Chances are you'll feel uplifted- at the very least, connected.

There are so many more ideas on what to do in between counseling sessions, tailored specifically to you and your life. If you're ready to take the next step and invest in counseling, schedule an appointment today.


"Isn't being a counselor just depressing?!"

When people hear what I do for a living, there are generally three responses:

1. "Oh..." (*immediately changes subject*)

2. "Hey, I know someone who struggles with ___, what do you think about that?"

3. "Hmm isn't that just depressing?!"

The first two comments could be posts all their own, but today I wanted to focus on the last response. I'd say it's the most common response to finding out that I'm a counselor. And I get it. From the outside, it might seem that I spend my days listening to sad story after sad story, tales of woe and misery, all depressing all the time. But I'm here to tell clear up some misconceptions about counseling.

Here's what being a counselor is actually like:

  1. It's a front row seat to the range of human experience. My clients tell stories of their best days and their worst days- sometimes all in the same session. It's a reminder that we all have light and dark inside of us.

  2. It's getting to look at things from a new perspective. Sometimes we get stuck in a certain way of thinking that's not helpful. It's exciting to see clients begin to look at situations in a new, more helpful way.

  3. It's inspirational. I hear stories of bravery every day. When someone is telling me about a tough situation, I make a point to be a bravery detective. A lot of the time, people aren't aware that what they are doing is really brave- and when they are told that it is, everything changes.

  4. It's seeing transformation happening right before my eyes. I've seen hopelessness change to hopefulness. I've heard negative self-talk change to positive self-talk. I've witnessed relationships totally re-energized. It's amazing.

Local to Minneapolis? Ready to invest in yourself through counseling? Schedule an appointment to get started today. 


You are worthy, you are lovable, you are valuable.

I'm reading Brené Brown's new book, Rising Strong and have been loving every word. This quote in particular sticks out to me:

This is why it's so important- even necessary, I'd say- to know your worth. To know your inherent value as a human being. To know that no matter what the critics say, you are worthy, you are lovable, and you are valuable. Because when you're practicing vulnerability, putting yourself out there creatively or otherwise, someone isn't going to like it. Someone out there is going to criticize it, tear it apart. As Brené says, you're going to get your ass kicked. 

For more related to this, here's an earlier post I wrote on The Gifts of Imperfection.


What to do when you're overwhelmed

Feeling overwhelmed is one of the most common emotions I hear in my work as a counselor. With work, family, and friends all competing for your time, it's easy to feel pulled in all directions. If you're feeling overwhelmed today, there are things you can to do help yourself:

Breathe

Deep breathing can lower your heartbeat and blood pressure, helping you to feel more relaxed. Try focusing on your breath and bodily sensations- become aware of what's going on around you and inside your body. 

Practice gratitude

Grab a pen and notepad and make a quick gratitude list. You can use your phone's notepad if you want, but I'd encourage you to take a step back from the screen while you're feeling overwhelmed. Get specific about what you're grateful for- instead of "I'm grateful for my friends" how about "I'm grateful for my friend Emily, who is such a good listener. I'm grateful for Claire, who knows just how to make me laugh." 

Get moving

Do something active- anything! A couple yoga asanas (I like this video for a quick de-stress), a few calf raises, or a walk around the block. By focusing on your body instead of your thoughts, you can put some space between you and overwhelmed feeling. 

Make a list

Okay, now that you've gotten a little distance from whatever was part of making you feel overwhelmed, it's time to take action. Make a prioritized list of what needs to get done. When that's done, cross off the last thing. Really. You can tackle that one later. For now, just focus on your top one or two priorities. And keep breathing.

If you're feeling overwhelmed more often than you used to, counseling can help. We can work together to help you feel more at ease, giving you the tools to manage that feeling of being overwhelmed. You'll also learn more about yourself in general- which will help you to understand the why behind the way you react to stress. Schedule your first session to get started today.


Am I a perfectionist?!

It's normal to wonder if perfectionism is really a problem in your life- odds are, it has served you in some way, shape, or form. It may have helped you earn high grades in school or land your dream job. But after awhile it feels like those high standards are impossible to meet, and you feel exhausted. Maybe you're worn out from all that striving- always trying to do better, be better. 

If this sounds like you, consider making a counseling appointment. I offer both individual and group counseling for perfectionism, and would love to talk to you about which would be most helpful for you. Whether or not you want to pursue counseling, I want you to know that perfectionism CAN be overcome- true transformation is possible.


Should we get premarital counseling?

Maybe you've been in a relationship with your fiancé for several years, and you're unsure if premarital counseling is worth the time and investment. I believe it is worth its weight in gold- and here are a couple reasons why:

  1. You will learn so much about yourself- especially if you've never worked with a counselor. You'll have the opportunity to consider your personality, your habits, your values- plus, you will gain a greater understanding of how your parents/family influence how you are in a relationship.
  2. This is a great time to get on the same page about all those major life decisions. How do you plan to manage family finances? Are you either or both of you bringing debt (hello, student loans!) to the table? Do you want children, and have you thought about how you would like to raise them? Will faith or spirituality be a part of your marriage and family?
  3. You're probably spending lots of time planning your wedding- are you also spending a good portion of your time focusing on your relationship? In premarital counseling, you are guaranteed a solid chunk of time specifically  you, your fiancé, and your upcoming marriage. It would be hard to overstate the value in doing this.
“The real act of marriage takes place in the heart, not in the ballroom or church or synagogue. It’s a choice you make– not just on your wedding day, but over and over again– and that choice is reflected in the way you treat your husband or wife.”
— Barbara de Angelis

By investing in premarital counseling, you are investing in your marriage. Minneapolis - St. Paul couples, get started today by scheduling an appointment. Your marriage is worth it!


How to Curb Your Anxiety- with Food

I'm reading a fascinating book called The Anti-Anxiety Food Solution by Trudy Scott, CN. It is full of real life stories of people managing, reducing, and in some cases eliminating anxiety by choosing to eat different types of foods. It also has a ton of helpful explanations about how and why foods are correlated with anxiety.

Let food be your medicine and your medicine be your food.
— Hippocrates

Now, let me say one thing right away- I am all about enjoying food. Preparing and sharing a meal is great for your relationships AND your tastebuds. Foods that include gluten, sugar, and fat are... delicious. Totally eliminating entire food groups is not what I advocate. However, there also happens to be a growing pile of research suggesting that certain foods can make anxiety worse. There's also lots of evidence for the relationship between your gut and your brain. I'll leave the heavy duty research to the scientists, and present to you a few food suggestions to help your anxiety:

  1. Scott points out that having too little zinc and vitamin B6 is correlated with anxiety. Try adding seafood- fresh fish or oysters! Not into that? How about some carrots, red meat, or Gouda cheese?
  2. Add some tasty yogurt or kimchi to your diet. A new study is showing that eating fermented foods has a positive effect on social anxiety, particularly in young adults.
  3. Of course I couldn't forget about caffeine. Have you noticed more anxiety symptoms (pounding heart, sense of dread, upset stomach) after having too much caffeine? Everyone has a different caffeine tolerance- what might make you feel a little jittery could make someone else feel on the verge of a panic attack. My recommendation is to reduce your caffeine intake and then just notice how you feel. Once you have a good idea how much you can tolerate, try sticking to those guidelines to help your anxiety.

Are you ready to make some life changes? Changing your diet is a great first step. Cognitive-behavioral and mindfulness-based therapies are also excellent, evidence-based treatments for anxiety. Click here to get started with a counseling appointment- I look forward to hearing from you!


3 Dimensions of Happiness

"I just want to be happy."

"I know I have it good, but I just don't feel happy."

"My life just feels kind of meaningless."

I hear comments like these ones all the time. The pursuit of happiness is a major goal for a lot of people. But, how do we actually go about becoming happier? How much happiness is enough? And... what is happiness, really?

Martin Seligman is the brilliant researcher and author behind the positive psychology movement. In his book Authentic Happiness (sidebar, this is one of my favorite psychology books- definitely check it out if you are interested in this topic!), Seligman lays out his theory for what the truly happy life is. Actually, he describes 3 distinct dimensions that make up the happiest life possible.

The Pleasant Life mostly focuses on positive emotions and positive experiences. You are living this life if you spend a lot of time doing things that bring you pleasure. For example, you might really like trying out new coffee shops, reading the latest bestseller, or planning a family reunion.

The Good Life happens when you understand your strengths and use them to enhance your own life. If one of your strengths is that you appreciate the beauty of nature, you might spend a lot of time outdoors, savoring sunsets and taking delight in the wildlife.

The Meaningful Life is experienced when you use your strengths for a higher purpose or institution. Continuing the previous example, you are living the meaningful life if you take your strength of appreciating the beauty of nature and use it in your volunteer position at the nature center, educating others about local plants and animals. 

Counseling can help tease out the particulars of happiness. We can work together to cultivate contentment and gratitude. Schedule your first appointment today to get started.


How to Simplify Your Summer

Summer is officially here! Because our Minnesota climate can feel like the frozen tundra much of the year, it is easy to fill these months with as much summer fun as possible. But sometimes these good intentions actually backfire, and we're left feeling overwhelmed, hurried, and stressed. This leaves us with little time to rejuvenate and connect with the people we love. Here are a couple tips on how to find ease this summer:

3 Easy Ways to Simplify Your Summer

  1. Be intentional about setting aside a few weekends just for yourself. Summer is wedding season, graduation season, concert season, travel season, festival season.... it's easy for these three months to whiz right past us. Plan now to have a couple days every month without obligations- no work, no studying for summer classes, no running around- simply enjoy the warmth of the sun and the sweetness of the season.
  2. Make your nights tech free. This is a tough one for a lot of people! Try it as an experiment for a couple nights- after dinner, turn off your phone and computer, and do something to rejuvenate. Have friends over for a bonfire, go out for ice cream, take a sunset stroll around one of our beautiful Minnesota lakes. You might enjoy it so much that you implement it more often!
  3. Write down your summer priorities. What do you want to do this summer? Make a non-negotiable list and put it somewhere where you will see it often. Check in with yourself about whether your schedule and activities are aligning with your priorities. You might find yourself overcommitted to things that aren't a priority. Find ease by cutting back on obligations that aren't serving you.

Step Away from the Screen!

Wherever you are right now, take a look around and notice how many screens are in your environment. Televisions, tablets, phones, computers... How many of them are on right now? It's likely that some of you are reading this on your phone, while your favorite show is playing on your television. 

We have all heard that limiting screen time is a good idea. It has become quite difficult to do in recent years- screens have become such a large part of our everyday lives. In fact, many people feel a surge of anxiety at the thought of not having their phones for an extended period of time. All the more reason to set some boundaries around your devices! Here are my top reasons to step away from the screen:

5 Benefits of Reducing Your Screen Time

  1. You will be more approachable. You may find yourself striking up conversations with a friendly person on the bus or while waiting for a meeting to begin if you don't have your head down looking at your phone. 
  2. You could be more active. This is great for your mind and body. Instead of watching another episode of your favorite show, you'll have time for a walk around your neighborhood. Even a few laps around your office can clear your mind and get the blood pumping- try that instead of scrolling through social media on your lunch break.
  3. You could procrastinate less. Is there anyone who hasn't spent a little more time than intended on the internet or watching something? If you make a choice to reduce your screen time, a major player in the procrastination game is no longer an option!
  4. Your mood will improve. According to Dr. Victoria Dunkley, "interacting with screens shifts the nervous system into fight-or-flight mode which leads to dysregulation and disorganization of various biological systems." Taking some time away from your screens can help you feel more emotionally balanced.
  5. You will sleep better at night. Looking at a screen's blue light upsets your circadian rhythm, making it difficult for you to have a regular, restful sleep pattern. A recent study out of Norway showed that using a device in the hour before bed increased by 13-52% the likelihood of needing an hour or more to actually fall asleep.

Apps for Mental Health

When I find a product I love, I want everyone to know about it! That's why today I'm sharing my favorite apps for mental health. Now, generally I encourage reducing screen time (for many reasons, more on that later this week!) but there are a few useful apps that I believe are great for teens and adults alike. One caveat- these apps are a great supplement to counseling and mental healthcare, not a substitute.

 

  • My Smiling Mind (App Store and Google Play)
    • Trying to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life? This app can help you launch into a regular practice of mindfulness meditations. There are several programs, broken down by age group (ranging from age 7 to adult). It tracks how often you are meditating and provides guided practices as well.
  • Mindshift (App Store and Google Play)
    • I love this app. It's focus is anxiety management- both for help in the moment as well as practicing during calm times. It offers specific techniques for handling perfectionism, test anxiety (great for teens and college students!), panic attacks, and more. My favorite part is the "Chill Out Tools" section- the app guides you through relaxation and visualization exercises. Another great part of this app is the "Take Active Steps" section- it is full of coping suggestions and real-life ways to handle anxiety in the moment. 
  • Moment (App Store)
    • A fairly simple app, Moment tracks how much time you spend on your phone each day. It is easy to spend a ton of time on your phone without even realizing it- from checking emails to scrolling through social media, to texting and making calls- you might be surprised to see how many minutes (hours?) of your day is spent looking at your phone. Moment is not technically a mental health app, but research shows a strong correlation between heavy smartphone use and mental health issues including stress, depression, and anxiety (here and here).
  • WhatsMyM3 (App Store and Google Play)
    • This is a great screening tool for depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. While this is not a diagnostic tool, elevated scores on the checklists are a good indicator that you could benefit from counseling. 

I would love to hear what you think-  comment below with your favorite mental health app!

Maybe you've been managing anxiety with iPhone apps for awhile now, and you're thinking it might be time to go deeper and make a counseling appointment. Anxiety does not have to rule your life. Take the next step and schedule your first appointment today.


Pets, Anxiety, and Depression

When I was in college, the local animal shelter brought dogs to campus during finals week. The lawn of the student union would be dedicated to students playing with dogs- a welcome break from studying! Not only was it a good time to get in some belly scratches and head rubs, there is solid science to back it up.

If you're a pet parent, you know that coming home to a warm puppy kiss at the end of a long day is a great feeling. It's especially good if you are someone who happens to live alone- social isolation is a huge factor in developing depression. Of course animals aren't a complete replacement for human connection- but they do bring their own set of benefits to the table.

5 Therapeutic Benefits of Having a Pet

  1. Having a pet can be like having a roommate or friend. Feelings of isolation can easily go along with living alone- something a lot of people deal with, especially right out of college. Simply having Fido by your side while you go about your daily routine is comforting, and reduces feelings of loneliness.

  2. I know many people who gravitate to the pet of the house when visiting someone or attending a party. A pet can serve as a prop to help you feel more comfortable if you're nervous about a new situation. For instance, you might feel more socially at ease talking to a new person if you've got feline friend to pet the whole time.

  3. It's very clear from the research that exercise has both physical and mental benefits- I recommend that everyone incorporate some physical activity into their daily routine. But sometimes it can be hard to get moving. Here's where having a pet comes in handy- Clifford isn't going to walk himself! Taking your dog on a spin around the block is good for both of you. 

  4. If you struggle with anxiety or perfectionism in particular, chances are you spend a lot of time in your head- oftentimes spinning your wheels around the same issue- this can get really frustrating after awhile! An extremely effective way to get outside of your own head is to focus on something external- cue the pets! Putting your attention on caring for your pet (training, feeding, walking) gives you a great opportunity to take a step back from any unhelpful or toxic thoughts.

  5. You get a sense of purpose out of caring for your pet. One effect of depression is feeling a lack of purpose- feeling like there is no point to life, no reason to get out of bed in the morning. Having a pet with needs of it's own can provide some motivation to get up and get your day started.


4 Reasons to Try Counseling

Most people don't call a therapist the first time they think about starting counseling. It's a big decision and takes some time! If you've been thinking about seeing a therapist, here are a few reasons to try counseling:

 

  1. A therapist will listen. Actually listen. Family and friends can be great listeners and be very helpful when you are struggling. But therapists are trained to listen in a different way. You have your therapist's undivided attention and unbiased ear.
  2. You will learn new ways of thinking and being. Like I've mentioned earlier, many of our thoughts are automatic. This can very easily lead to a downward spiral of depressing thoughts. A therapist can help you recognize your thought patterns and implement new, healthier ones. You will be amazed how much a new way of thinking can help your mood.
  3. Your relationships can improve while you are in counseling! You might be thinking, "my relationships are fine"- but what if they could go from fine to amazing? A therapist can help you discover patterns in your relationships, understand yourself better, and improve your communication! 
  4. A lot people think whatever they are going through isn't "bad enough" to warrant seeing a therapist. The thing is, issues that go ignored over time tend to balloon into bigger problems. What was once a small issue can eventually overwhelm your life. Why wait until life feels unmanageable to get help?

I truly believe counseling- whether it is short-term or long-term- has a place in everyone's life at some point. Remember, your mental health is every bit as important as your physical health. You deserve to feel happy and healthy in your mind and body. Take the first step and schedule an appointment today.


Your First Counseling Session

The decision to start counseling is big- and takes a lot of bravery. It's normal to feel overwhelmed or unsure about your first session. You might be talking about things you've never said out loud before. Maybe you're unsure what to expect. Here are some things to know about your first appointment:

 

  1. Your first counseling session is called the intake. Your therapist will be doing a lot of information-gathering, which can sometimes feel overwhelming. During my intake sessions, I focus not only on what has brought you into my office, but also the things that are going well for you- supportive family and friends, talents, passions. These things play a big part in your feeling better.
  2. Everyone's favorite thing, paperwork! You will be filling out some forms about your background and personal information. Your therapist will also go over a document called the informed consent, which covers what you can expect in counseling- everything from your therapist's background, specialities, and credentials, to session fees, to confidentiality. It is very important to have an understanding of this document, so be sure to ask questions if anything is confusing!
  3. The majority of the intake session will be an interview. Questions range from childhood experiences all the way up to how you have been feeling most recently. Depending on your situation, you might take some written questionnaires to help your therapist get an even better idea of how best to help you.
  4. Toward the end of the session, or even at the start of your second session, you and your therapist will start to come up with a few goals. These are the things you would like to focus on in counseling. Try visualizing how your life will look if counseling is successful. How will you feel? What will have changed? 

Ready to take first step toward growth and healing? Get started by scheduling an appointment today.


ANTS! Part II.

Hopefully you've had a chance to read the first ANTS post. If not, go check it out before continuing!

 

A quick review of Daniel Amen's steps before moving on:

How to Get Rid of ANTS

  1. Realize your thoughts are real.
  2. Notice how negative thoughts impact your body.
  3. Notice how positive thoughts impact your body.
  4. Notice how every single thought impacts your body.

Now that we've taken some time to be mindful of how our bodies feel when we think certain things, it's time to move on to the game-changers.

  1. Consider all those negative thoughts to be pollution- literally poison to your wellbeing. That changes things, right? Instead of not paying much attention to your thoughts, you've decided to regard those negative thoughts as the enemy. They are doing nothing to serve you.
  2. Being to realize that your ANTS aren't to be trusted- they are not objective! As Amen notes, "you don't have to believe every thought that goes through your head" (p. 59). Yes, your thoughts are real. But that doesn't mean they are true. 
  3. Good news! You have the power to talk back to the ANTS. If they are taking over your mind, you can choose to answer them with positive thoughts, or at least more realistic thoughts. A lot of ANTS are catastrophic- worse case scenario. So, if the ANT is telling you "You will never get into the right graduate school. You don't have what it takes," you can choose to respond to the ANT by saying "I do have what it takes to get into graduate school- even if I'm not admitted to my #1 school, I'm applying to several other schools. Plus, I am so much more than where I go to school." 
  4. The finals step is extermination! This is where you can really go to town by attacking those ANTS. You realize the ANTS are lying to you, and you answer them back. Every time, until the process becomes automatic. Of course, there are many different kinds of ANTS, so you can practice different ways of responding, depending on what the ANT is saying to you.

Give these steps a try, and let me know how it goes! Oftentimes it is helpful to have a therapist walk with you through these steps. Negative thought patterns are a big deal- I would be honored to help you exterminate those ANTS. Take the first step toward healing by scheduling an appointment.


ANTS!

In my last blog post on perfectionism, I alluded to the idea of automatic thoughts. These are the thoughts that you don't plan to have, or try to have- they seem to just happen. They may catch you off guard. And sometimes they can be dangerous.

 

Daniel G. Amen, M.D. is a clinical neuroscientist and author of Change Your Brain, Change Your Life: A Breakthrough Program for Conquering Anxiety, Depression, Obsessiveness, Anger, and Impulsiveness. This is a fascinating read if you are interested- I am going to focus on a small section of the book related to automatic negative thoughts- ANTS! Just like the tiny creatures, automatic negative thoughts can become pervasive and before you know it, you've got a problem. 

One core idea that guides my work as a therapist is that thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are all connected. This means if your thoughts are primarily negative, you are more likely to be depressed or anxious. It also means if you engage in destructive behavior, odds are that you will start thinking negatively about yourself. So, all this talk about ANTS is very important- if the negative thoughts you have are automatic, how are you supposed to change them? Are you destined to a life of negative emotions and behaviors as well? 

Thankfully there is something you can do about it. Amen presents a concise way of dealing with the ANTS. Today we will cover the first four steps.

How To Get Rid of ANTS

  1. Amen states the first step to getting rid of your automatic negative thoughts is to acknowledge that your thoughts are very real- neurochemistry is involved. In order to make a change, it's important to realize that your thoughts impact your feelings and actions.
  2. The next step Amen suggests is taking some time to notice how negative thoughts impact your body. When you think "I'm terrible at this," does your body feel light or heavy? Do you feel energized or lethargic? How about when you're stressed and thinking of everything you need to get done- are your shoulders creeping up toward your ears? How does your back feel? Has your breathing changed?
  3. Now what about a positive thought? If your thought is "That was such a great night out with friends," how does your body feel? What about a thought of gratitute: "I am so grateful to come home to my family every day" Pay attention to even the smallest changes in your body when your thoughts change.
  4. The fourth step Amen proposes is noticing your body's reaction to every thought you have. A lot of people have a disconnect between their minds and bodies. The truth is that your mind and body impact each other, all the time. In the next few days, try noticing what's going on in your body in relation to your thought life. You might be surprised!

A Little Too Perfect

Brené Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W. is one of my absolute favorite researchers and authors. You may have heard of one of her bestselling books, or have seen her with Oprah on Super Soul Sunday. One of the books I frequently recommend to clients, family, and friends is The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. Brown lays out 10 guideposts for wholehearted living- today I am going to review the second guidepost, which is related to perfectionism.

 

Wait- why are we talking about perfectionism? Isn't it good to have high standards? What about school and work- shouldn't we be striving to do the best we can? If we let go of perfectionism, won't we lose our value as students and professionals?

The answer is an emphatic no. In fact, quite the opposite. Brown demystifies two common thoughts on perfectionism. The first is that perfectionism ≠ striving for excellence. She explains how we actually use perfectionism to protect ourselves- if we can just look perfect, we won't have to deal with things that make us uncomfortable- namely, shame. The second thought is that perfectionism ≠ self-improvement. The difference is that perfectionism is based on pleasing and impressing others- teachers, professors, supervisors, parents, friends... even complete strangers. Self-improvement on the other hand, is based on self-appraisal.

I love what Brown says in The Gifts of Imperfection: "Where perfectionism exists, shame is always lurking. In fact, shame is the birthplace of perfectionism." It is so true- perfectionism screams "you aren't good enough- try harder. Do better." Now imagine listening to those messages all day. It is exhausting. Essentially, if we are perfectionists, we are connecting our value to our work. The things we do begin to define our souls- for example, your supervisor gives you a suggestion for improvement. Your automatic thought (seriously, it is automatic- more on this in my next post) is that you aren't a good employee. Your worthiness has been taken down a few notches. You might find yourself avoiding that particular job task because you feel more anxious just thinking about it. Maybe you start avoiding your supervisor, hoping she has forgotten about her suggestion. 

You can work toward being your best self without using perfectionism. Instead, try be kind to yourself. For example, tell yourself that you are going to study for that exam and try your best, but if your grade isn't as high as you had hoped, remind yourself that you are still a valuable person. You are still capable of reaching your goals. You are still worthy.